Alec Soth's Archived Blog

April 30, 2007

Art & Pam

Filed under: Pamela Anderson — alecsothblog @ 2:12 am

I’m struggling to digest all of the art I’ve seen in the last week, much less regurgitate it on the blog. Looking for help, I’ve turned to the guru of American abundance, Pamela Anderson:

“I don’t really think about anything too much. I live in the present. I move on. I don’t think about what happened yesterday. If I think too much, it kind of freaks me out.” Pamela Anderson

It kind of freaks me out too. The gluttony started in the belly of the beast: Chelsea. There was a lot of caca on display, but the absolute worst was Sante D’Orazio at the Stellan Holm Gallery. D’Orazio showed thirty-two pictures of a young Latina model scantily clad in a Catholic schoolgirl uniform. The project is called Katlick School (the model’s name is Kat….get it). Does this all sound a little shallow. No way. Read what D’Orazio said about the project on Page 6 of the New York Post:

The book is about a young girl going into her own womanhood and the outfit is only a symbol of purity which is transformed into a symbol of the bad girl. It’s really all about symbolism and mythology. Every artist I’ve shown the book has been blown away.

(If you really want to be blown away, watch this cartoon about the project on Gawker)

This is D’Orazio’s second show at Stellan Holm. The first was nude pictures of Pamela Anderson. In an interview on, Ms. Anderson described the show:

I like the experience of being in a shoot, and I’m a total exhibitionist, but I don’t like to look at them. Sante sent me some on my computer, and I was kind of blown away. I can’t imagine them blown up.

D’Orazio isn’t the first to blow up pictures of Anderson for the galleries. Marilyn Minter currently has a photograph of Anderson in a group show at Smith-Stewart. Here Anderson talks about working with Minter on her online diary:


Anderson should be flattered. Minter is a thousand times more interesting than D’Orazio. She’s as interested in the freckles as the fantasy.

“I’ve always been interested in people with so-called flaws,” Minter says in this video interview with CreativeTime.

Unarmed (Pamela Anderson) by Marilyn Minter

After Chelsea I made a trip up to MOMA and saw the Jeff Wall retrospective. It was the perfect antidote to D’Orazio. I’ve always liked the work of Wall, but I’ve been skeptical of the lightboxes. Seeing them isolated in a collection, they always struck me as trying too hard. But with the brilliant installation at MOMA, I was able to forget the apparatus and enter the pictures. I even liked the size.

“Size does matter. There’s a lot of ways to make people feel good, but personally I think it does enhance things.” Pamela Anderson

In 1991, Vince Aletti wrote an excellent article on big photographs. “For too many photographers bigger is not better,” he said, “a weak image doesn’t suddenly look important when it’s blown up to the size of a store window.” Wall’s images aren’t weak, but they sometimes feign weakness. The size of the prints seems essential to understanding this dynamic.

I’ve probably seen Wall’s ‘Picture for Women’ reproduced a thousand times. But until seeing the 5×7 foot image at MOMA, I never really felt the presence of Wall’s bicep while he clicked the shutter. This detail seems essential:


After admiring Wall’s muscles, I visited the Taryn Simon show at the Whitney museum. I’d recently acquired Simon’s book, ‘An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar.’ The book is so good that it almost makes an exhibition unnecessary. But, like Wall, Simon leans toward the conceptually chilly. So her surprisingly sensual prints can be a relief. I was especially touched by the details in her print of Kenny the retarded Tiger:

White Tiger (Kenny) Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge Eureka Springs, AR. by Taryn Simon

I left New York surprising optimistic about photography. Wall and Simon had my head in the conceptual clouds. But I was quickly brought back down to earth after visiting Art Chicago. As usual, the toxic mix of money and decontextualized art was nearly devastating. For the record, I think these fairs have a lot of good work and I’m grateful for the business that gets done. I’m just not sure it is healthy for artists to spend much time watching this business get done.

“I’m not an actress. I don’t think I am an actress. I think I’ve created a brand and a business.” Pamela Anderson.

It is easy to become cynical. After too much time at the fair, you begin wondering if the successful artists are the ones who’ve devoted themselves to branding and business. So thank God for Chicagraphy. On Saturday night I attended the opening of an excellent exhibition curated by Brian Ulrich and Jon Gitelson. The organic mix of good art and MGD (in cans, of course) helped erase my art fair cynicism.

“I found I could be happy and throw up at the same time.” Pamela Anderson

April 27, 2007

Friday Poem

Filed under: poetry — alecsothblog @ 8:05 am

I recently mentioned the emerging This American Life backlash. But this is pretty gentle stuff. If you want venom, read what people have said about Garrison Keillor over the years.

One of the most entertaining rants was written in regards to Keillor’s daily Writer’s Almanac segments on public radio. In his essay, No Antonin Artaud with the Flapjacks, Please, August Kleinzahler writes:

Especially most of what Garrison Keillor reads on his Writer’s Almanac, which, as a rule, isn’t poetry at all but prose arbitrarily broken into lines masquerading as poetry. The typical Keillor selection tends to be anecdotal, wistful: more often than not a middle-aged creative writing instructor catching a whiff of mortality in the countryside—watching the geese head south, getting lost in the woods, this sort of thing.

John Ash, writing of the brilliant, fellow English poet Roy Fisher, speaks of Fisher’s “rage, his refusal to be politely depressed.” There is a virulent strain of the “politely depressed” in American poetry. There are other, equally obnoxious and resistant strains, but the “politely depressed” is a pertinacious little bugger, and Garrison Keillor is only helping to spread it.

Poetry not only isn’t good for you, bad poetry has been shown to cause lymphomas and, in extreme instances, pancreatic cancer, in laboratory experiments. (I’ll have to dig around in my notes to find exactly what study that was. . . .) I avoid Keillor’s poetry moment at nine a.m. here in San Francisco as I avoid sneezing, choking, rheumy-eyed passengers on the streetcar, lest I catch something. But occasionally, while surfing for the news, I get bit and am nearly always sickened, if not terminally, for several hours.

After reading this essay, I wanted to find the poetry that Kleinzahler appreciates. Along with citing Roy Fisher above, Kleinzahler wrote an essay on Fisher in the London Review of Books:

The eye darts about in Fisher’s poetry. It abhors the object at rest, framing of any kind. It’s like a camera, jerking and swivelling on an unstable tripod. Early and late, the poetry is about the eye in motion. The shifts may be subtle or vertiginously abrupt. It’s best not to get too comfortable as you progress through a poem because you’re not going to be where you think you are for long.

As a result, says Kleinzahler, “Roy Fisher’s publishing history has been a mess, as it customarily is for those poets consigned to the margins who have managed to persist at their art over many years.” Fisher clearly agrees. Take a look at this self deprecating poem, (I think Garrison Keillor might like it too):

by Roy Fisher

for Peter Ryan

Dear Mr Fisher I am writing
a thesis on your work.
But am unable to obtain
texts. I have articles by Davie, D.,
and Mottram, E.,
But not your Books since booksellers
I have approached refuse to
take my order saying they
can no longer afford to
handle ‘this type of business’. It is
too late! for me to change
my subject to the work of a more
popular writer, so please Mr Fisher
you must help me since I face the alternatives
of failing my degree or repaying
the whole of my scholarship money. . .

Dear Mr Fisher although I have been unable
to read much of your work (to get it that is)
I am a great admirer of it and your landscapes
have become so real to me I am convinced I have, in fact,
become you. I have never, however,
seen any photograph of you, and am most curious
to have an idea of your appearance,
beyond what my mirror, of course, tells me.
The cover of your Collected Poems
(reproduced in the Guardian, November 1971)
shows upwards of fifty faces; but which is yours? Are you
the little boy at the front, and if so have you
changed much since them?

Dear Mr Fisher recently while studying
selections from a modern anthology with
one of my GCE groups I came across your interestingly titled
‘Starting to Make a Tree’. After the discussion I felt strongly
you were definitely holding something back in this poem
though I can’t quite reach it. Are you often in Rugby?
If you are, perhaps we could meet and I could
try at least to explain. Cordially, Avis Tree. PS. Should we
arrange a rendezvous I’m afraid I wouldn’t
know who to look out for as I’ve never unfortunately
seen your photograph. But I notice you were born in 1930
the same year as Ted Hughes. Would I be right
in expecting you to resemble him, more or less?

–Dear Ms Tree,
It’s true I’m in Rugby quite often, but the train
goes through without stopping. Could you fancy standing
outside the UP Refreshment Room a few times so that
I could learn to recognize you? If you could
just get hold of my four books, and wave them,
then I’d know it was you. As for my own appearance
I suppose it inclines more to the
Philip Larkin side of Ted Hughes’s looks. . .
See if you think so as I go by. . .

Dear Mr Fisher I have been commissioned
to write a short
critical book on your work
but find that although I have a full
dossier of reviews etcetera
I don’t have access to your books. Libraries
over here seem just not to have bought them in.
Since the books are quite a few years old now
I imagine they’ll all have been remaindered
some while back? Or worse, pulped? So can
you advise me on locating second-hand copies,
not too expensively I hope? Anyway,
yours, with apologies and respect. . .

Dear Mr Fisher I am now
so certain I am you that it is obvious to me
that the collection of poems I am currently working on
must be
your own next book! Can you let me know–
who is to publish it and exactly when
it will be appearing? I shouldn’t like there to
be any trouble over contracts, ‘plagiarism’
etcetera; besides which it would be a pity
to think one of us was wasting time and effort.
How far have you got? Please help me. I
do think this is urgent. . .

April 23, 2007


Filed under: media,quizes & assignments — alecsothblog @ 10:31 pm

Textbooks covered in blood, Photo by Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty


#1) The photograph above was taken following the brutal murder of dozens of college students and professors. Where did this horrific event take place?

A) Blacksburg, Virginia
B) Baghdad, Iraq

#2) For whom did George Bush recently order flags to be flown at half-staff?

A) The 33 victims of Seung Hui Cho
B) The 3312 U.S. troops that have died in the Iraq war and the 337 in Afghanistan.


#1) B. In January, Baghdad’s Mustansiriya University sufferred a double suicide bombing that killed at least 70 people, including students, faculty, and staff. A month later, another suicide bomber struck at Mustansiriya, killing 40.

#2) A. Today an Army sergeant complained about the U.S. flag being flown at half-staff at the largest U.S. base in Afghanistan for those killed at Virginia Tech. The same honor has not been given to fallen U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.


Filed under: editorial photo,quotes — alecsothblog @ 4:13 pm

“Some people’s photography is an art. Not mine. Art is a dirty word in photography. All this fine art crap is killing it already.” Helmut Newton

Letter to the editor

Filed under: editorial photo — alecsothblog @ 8:59 am


This American Backlash

Filed under: critics & curators — alecsothblog @ 12:10 am

Have you noticed the brewing This American Life backlash? Along with Jen Bekman’s recent tirade and an Onion spoof, Nancy Franklin has a negative review in the New Yorker. Like Bekman, she begins her piece with an apology:

“One wants very much to like “This American Life”—to love it—because the people who make it are so obviously thoughtful, intelligent, and respectful of their subjects.”

Franklin struggles to pinpoint her frustrations. “A certain amount of smugness comes through,” she says, “though it is hard to locate precisely.”

I’ve spent much of this weekend thinking about This American Life and the nature of cultural backlashes. A few theories:

  • We quickly tire of anything highly original that is produced within a conventional context
  • Aficionados want to destroy anything that becomes popular
  • It is culturally beneficial to limit the influence of highly influential work.

But maybe the problem with This American Life is the formula. In the New Yorker review, Franklin quotes host Ira Glass on the structure of the show:

There’s an anecdote, that is, a sequence of actions where someone says ‘this happened then this happened then this happened’—and then there’s a moment of reflection about what that sequence means…It’s the structure, essentially, of a sermon; you hear a little story from the Bible, then the clergyperson tells you what it means.

I’ve spent way too much time on this lovely Sunday trying to come up with a sermon on cultural backlashes. I don’t know what they mean. You tell me.

April 20, 2007

Friday Poem

Filed under: poetry — alecsothblog @ 1:22 am

For Title Week, I’ve selected a poem by Elaine Equi. If you like the poem, check out more of Equi’s work (here, here, here, here). And read her essays about greeting cards here, artistic ambition here, and being an ‘American’ poet here.

Table of Contents for an Imaginary Book
By Elaine Equi

Monster Gardens
Up Close, Out Back, Down Under
Flying Backward
The Drunken Voluptuary Workers in the Solarium
Dove Sighting
All the Yellow in the World
A Curse I Put on Myself
Three Sides of the Same Coin
Night Cream
Good Luck With Your Chaos
The Glass Stagecoach
In the Country of Mauve
Parrots and Dictators
Walking the Evening Back Home
A Twelve Course Dinner of Regret
The Gap Gatherer
Burning Down the Ocean
Multiple Choice

April 18, 2007

Original Titles

Filed under: books — alecsothblog @ 9:30 pm

More title talk. More examples of original titles:

Original Title: First Impressions
Final Title: Pride and Prejudice

Original Titles: Mag’s Diversions, The Copperfield Disclosures, The Copperfield Records, The Copperfield Survey of the World As It Rolled, Copperfield Complete
Final Title: David Copperfield

Original Title: All’s Well That Ends Well
Final Title: War and Peace

Original Title: Stephen Hero
Final Title: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Original Titles: Fiesta, The Lost Generation, River to the Sea, Two Lie Together, The Old Leaven
Final Title: The Sun Also Rises

Original Title: Twilight
Final Title: The Sound and the Fury

My Favorite:

Original Title: Something That Happened
Final Title: Of Mice and Men

More on titles

Filed under: books — alecsothblog @ 12:03 am

Following Kurt Vonnegut’s death and my recent post on titles, I’m reminded that Slaughterhouse-Five is actually an abbreviation of the full title:

Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade – A Duty-Dance with Death By Kurt Vonnegut

A fourth-generation German-American now living in easy circumstances on Cape Cod [and smoking too much], who, as an American Infantry Scout Hors De Combat, As a prisoner of war, witnessed the fire-bombing of Dresden, Germany, “The Florence of the Elbe,” a long time ago, and survived to tell the tell. This is a novel somewhat in the telegraphic schizophrenic manner of tales of the planet Tralfamadore, where the flying saucers come from. Peace.

And did you know about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s original title for The Great Gatsby?

If you walked into a bookstore and saw the title ”Trimalchio in West Egg” would you be seduced into grabbing it off the shelf? How about ”The High-Bouncing Lover”? Perhaps a bit more alluring and at least fathomable. Or ”Gold-Hatted Gatsby.” Closer maybe, but it doesn’t sing.

Finally, after much anguish, it became ”The Great Gatsby.” But according to a book about book titles,”Now All We Need Is a Title” (W. W. Norton) by Andre Bernard, Fitzgerald was still lamenting after ”Gatsby” was published that he had allowed himself to be talked out of ”Trimalchio.”

In a 1999 New York Times article, Martin Arnold discusses Trimalchio and other interesting anecdotes about book titles. I liked this passage:

E. L. Doctorow has what he calls ”working titles. They usually get used up during the course of the book.”

He said that these temporary titles give his work ”a propulsive capacity. They supply little bursts of inspiration and excitement. They exhaust themselves and are replaced by others. The last one is the one that works.”

Two more reasons to give Eric money

Filed under: studio — alecsothblog @ 12:02 am

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